In a world fraught with environmental challenges, the synergy of art and activism has emerged as a potent force for change. Meet Hannah Tizedes, an extraordinary artist and environmental activist. Raised amidst the natural splendor of Michigan and the majestic Great Lakes, Hannah witnessed the disheartening sight of litter washing ashore on these pristine beaches. This experience ignited her passion for environmental conservation.
Hannah’s journey epitomizes the transformative potential of creativity. She embarked on a mission to collect plastic debris from beaches worldwide, fashioning these discarded fragments into captivating works of art. Her art serves a dual purpose: raising awareness about plastic pollution and climate change, and inspiring individuals to take concrete actions for a cleaner, more sustainable planet. In this exclusive interview, Hannah shares her inspirational odyssey, the genesis of The Cleanup Club, and her insights on the intersection of art and environmental advocacy.
Dive into her world, where vibrant creativity converges with climate activism, and discover how Hannah is kindling hope amidst the formidable challenges of our time.
Can you tell us about your journey as an environmental activist and artist? How did you become interested in addressing environmental issues through art?
I was raised by creative and resourceful parents. My mom was always crafting or pit-stopping at garage sales and my dad was always entertaining my elaborate clubhouse buildout ideas or building something functional out of scrap materials. But it wasn’t until later in my life that I came to appreciate those acts for who they made me today.
At university, I paired my creative studies with sustainability studies, worked at the campus recycling center where I was able to explore fun creative projects, and began collecting trash from my travels around the world & the Great Lakes for art pieces I was brainstorming. After learning more about plastic pollution and seeing it from coast to coast, but especially its impact on my home state’s shorelines, I knew I wanted to use my creativity as a vehicle for change. My hope is and was to create art that makes people take a deeper look – literally and figuratively – at the impact plastic pollution has on the planet. I hope people feel inspired to do what they can, with what they have, wherever they are for a less trashy earth.
You have a very unique style of creating your artworks with plastic, and microplastic. Why did you choose this medium?
I’m from Michigan, so I grew up surrounded by the Great Lakes. These lakes hold ~90% of the US’s freshwater, provide drinking water to 40+ million people, offer endless amounts of beauty, and are home to thousands of plants and animals. They’re so special. And yet every year it’s estimated that around 22 million pounds of plastic pollution enters them. At the same time, I have always been captivated by the rainbow of plastic I find on their shorelines. So I created something with those pieces to help tell the story I was witnessing.
As the founder of The Cleanup Club, could you tell us more about the initiative and its goals? How do you encourage others to get involved in cleaning up their communities and reducing plastic waste?
The Cleanup Club is a nonprofit dedicated to educating communities on Great Lakes plastic pollution while having fun through cleanups, collaborations, conversations & creativity. I think so often people feel overwhelmed with climate news or plastic pollution news, yet they want to help make the world a better place. And I wanted to help make that super simple while building a community of people that care. It doesn’t matter if you’re an engineer, local barista, or school teacher – everyone is welcome to join in. I also do my best in providing uplifting experiences for everyone so instead of walking away from a cleanup thinking “shit, that was a lot of trash, what now?” people can walk away with resources to local zero-waste shops & refillers, with fun sustainable giveaways in hand, and more. That way, their positive impact doesn’t just stop at the cleanup.
What challenges have you faced as an environmental activist and artist? How do you navigate these challenges and stay motivated to continue your work?
I always try to look at the bright side of things. The little actions add up and it’s really incredible to have people tell me that they’re inspired by my work and because of it, they did X, Y, or Z. I’ve definitely hit bumps in the road where I’ve thought, “what is this all for?” or “does my work even matter?” but then I go outside and I’m reminded of my why. The beauty of this amazing planet we get to call home is the best reminder out there and that’s why I continue to advocate to protect it.
How do you believe art can be a powerful tool for raising awareness about environmental issues? What role do you think art can play in inspiring action and driving positive change?
I believe art is an incredibly important tool in raising awareness about environmental issues. Art makes us feel something. Art is powerful. Whether it’s through music, painting, literature, photography, and so on, art has the ability to story-tell so many different narratives when it comes to issues we feel deeply about. I think that inspiration can then be transformed into action and the art can be used as a vehicle for positive change.
How do you think artists can collaborate to make the climate movement stronger and more fruitful?
There are endless possibilities for artists to collaborate and help convey moving messages regarding climate change. I think we’re continuing to see more collaborations around these topics which is wonderful, however, I think we do need to be aware of greenwashing when it comes to brand collaborations and partnerships and stay true to our ‘why’ in this work (aka Earth).
As an artivist, how do you balance the artistic and activist aspects of your work? How do you ensure that your art remains impactful and thought-provoking while also conveying a message of hope and empowerment?
I love making my work colorful. For me, that’s really important because I think colorful things are joyful. I also do my best at providing context behind materials I use to help educate people on things I’m finding on the beach like microplastics, mesoplastics, etc. while providing ways to take action through policy and local advocacy efforts.
I think optimism in all aspects of life is a wonderful thing. The world we live in nowadays can be filled with so much doom & gloom, so like José Gonzalez, Founder of Latino Outdoors said, we need more “do and bloom” instead.
What would your advice be to someone in the climate movement who feels hopeless and burned out?
The weight of the planet does not need to sit on your shoulders. It is a collective effort towards a better future for all. Whenever you’re feeling down, get outside. Kick off your shoes and go play in nature. Then, find a local organization making a positive impact and get involved. A community can be so healing too – to both ourselves and the planet.
Filled with gratitude and love for the people, places, and spaces I get the opportunity to know, explore, and nourish. I’m less focused on how I want the future to look and more focused on how I want it to feel.
Who are your biggest inspirations?
There are so many but at the end of the day, I love watching people thrive and grow doing what they love. Those are the people who inspire me most, people who follow their passions – and bonus points when it’s an earth-friendly passion, of course.
How can others join you in the climate movement or support your work?
People can feel free to follow my work on Instagram, @hannahtizedes, (where I share the majority of my art & advocacy), and/or follow my nonprofit’s work and learn more about Great Lakes plastic pollution and our efforts to protect them at www.thecleanupclub.org.
This is a part of a series where Green & Beyond Mag explores the stories and takes a peek at the lifestyles of incredible people like green entrepreneurs, innovators, climate advocates, activists, community leaders, and content creators, all around the world, who love the planet, and are working tirelessly to make the world a better place.
As the Plastic Free July campaign comes to a close, we find ourselves filled with inspiration and gratitude for the incredible community of climate activists, sustainable lifestyle enthusiasts, and eco-conscious individuals who came together to make a difference. Throughout this transformative month, we’ve had the privilege of hearing from a diverse group of inspiring individuals, including climate activists, sustainable lifestyle content creators, conscious entrepreneurs, and more. Their valuable insights have shed light on the importance of reducing plastic consumption and the positive impact it can have on our planet and our lives. It’s now time to recollect what we’ve learned throughout the month, so we can continue to make conscious choices every day to protect our planet and create a greener, healthier future for generations to come.
The Impact of Plastic Pollution
Tania Roa, a passionate climate activist, reminds us of the undeniable truth that plastic pollution is a result of the overuse of fossil fuels. From production to consumption, the entire lifecycle of plastic generates excessive pollution that our planet struggles to bear. Plastic waste infiltrates waterways, endangers wildlife, and even finds its way into our bodies. However, Tania also instills hope, urging us to remember that humans once lived without plastic and that we can reclaim our lives from plastic’s grip. She advocates for reuse, upcycling, and opting for plant-based materials whenever possible to make a positive difference.
Inanna, a musician and climate advocate, sheds light on the urgency of long-term thinking in tackling plastic pollution. She sees plastic as a symbol of a throwaway culture that prioritizes short-term convenience over the planet’s well-being. Recognizing that the Earth’s resources are finite, Inanna calls for a collective shift towards sustainable, ecological, reusable, and compostable alternatives to single-use plastics. By embracing change and questioning our habits, we can drive a vital transformation toward a greener, cleaner future.
The Multi-Faceted Importance of Reducing Plastic Consumption
Winnie Cheche, a dedicated climate activist, articulates the multiple benefits of reducing plastic consumption. By minimizing plastic waste, we protect our environment, preserve resources, and combat climate change. Plastic pollution has far-reaching consequences, affecting human health, wildlife, and the delicate balance of our ecosystems. Winnie’s call to action is an urgent reminder that protecting our planet is a collective responsibility.
Natalie Chung, a passionate climate advocate, eloquently highlights the suffocating reality of plastic pollution on our planet. From microplastics in Antarctica to the farthest reaches of our oceans, plastic waste knows no boundaries. Natalie’s message is clear: we must take control of our plastic addiction before it takes control of us. By reducing plastic consumption, we secure a safer, healthier environment for current and future generations.
Addressing Climate Change and Promoting Conservation
Lamech Opiyo, a driven climate activist, stresses the crucial role of reducing plastic consumption in mitigating climate change. The life cycle of plastic, from fossil fuel extraction to disposal, contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. By reducing our plastic footprint, we can champion sustainable waste management and conserve valuable resources. Lamech’s message resonates strongly with the idea that a safe and healthy environment is essential for our well-being and that of our planet.
Holding Corporations Accountable and Creating Ripple Effects
Niha Elety, an influential climate advocate and eco-entrepreneur, calls for collective action to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for their plastic waste. By driving demand for eco-friendly materials and reusable alternatives, individuals can inspire systemic change and transition towards a circular economy. Her powerful message is that, as a collective force, we can challenge corporate practices and spark a wave of sustainable innovation.
Puja Mishra, an eco and slow-fashion advocate also emphasizes the power of individual actions in creating a ripple effect for positive change. Each small step we take towards a plastic-free lifestyle contributes to a monumental shift in behavior, ultimately leading to a more sustainable world. Puja’s lesson reminds us that every eco-conscious choice matters and inspires us to be catalysts for collective change.
Margarita Samsonova, an influential eco-advocate and eco-entrepreneur, emphasizes the power of education and community engagement. By sharing our plastic-free journey and advocating for sustainable choices, we can inspire others and drive the collective change needed to protect our planet.
Celebrating Sustainable Fashion and Empowering Change
Clementina Martinez, a multifaceted sustainable fashion designer, and filmmaker, passionately advocates for reducing plastic consumption. She reminds us that the harmful impact of plastic waste goes beyond environmental damage; it affects our DNA, infiltrating our unborn babies and jeopardizing future generations. Embracing history as our guide, Clementina encourages us to reject the notion that we need plastic in our lives and instead, pave the way for a plastic-free future.
Alex Standley, a sustainable fashion stylist, also sheds light on the importance of making fashion more sustainable to combat plastic waste. By supporting eco-friendly and ethical fashion choices, we can significantly reduce the fashion industry’s plastic footprint. Alex’s lesson shows us that embracing sustainable fashion can be a powerful way to protect the environment.
Monica Richards, an eco-advocate and TV personality focuses on two crucial aspects of a plastic-free lifestyle: tackling microplastics and embracing minimalism. By switching to laundry and dishwasher pods, she ensures that microplastics do not leach into the water system. Additionally, adopting a minimalist mindset allows us to avoid unnecessary plastic consumption. Monica’s lesson shows that conscious choices can have a significant impact on reducing plastic pollution.
Embracing Imperfect Environmentalism and Meaningful Changes
Anne Therese Gennari, an eco-advocate and climate writer, invites us to view Plastic Free July as an opportunity for transformation. Rather than aiming for perfection, she encourages us to recognize our habits and seek sustainable alternatives. Embracing this challenge with transparency, patience, and understanding, we can embark on a journey of meaningful change.
Kate, an eco-advocate, encourages us to avoid overwhelm when transitioning to a plastic-free lifestyle. Her advice is simple but powerful: focus on one change at a time, allowing for gradual progress. By being patient with ourselves, we can build sustainable habits that last.
Linna, a passionate eco-advocate, promotes the idea of imperfect environmentalism. She reminds us that embracing sustainable practices, even in small steps, contributes to a monumental shift in the collective mindset. By upcycling and reusing items at home, we can reduce waste and make a positive impact.
Kate Hall, a dedicated eco-advocate, shares her favorite tip for avoiding plastic – utilizing beauty bar concentrates. By transitioning to reusable and home-compostable packaging, Kate eliminates plastic bottles from her shower and skincare routine. Her sustainable choices not only benefit the planet but also prove that satisfaction can coexist with eco-consciousness.
Michelle Sabado, an eco-advocate, encourages us to adopt a conscious approach to consumption. By considering the resources used in the production and disposal of products, we can make informed choices that prioritize sustainability and ethics.
Hannah Tizedes, an artivist, exemplifies the power of preparedness. Armed with a reusable bag, water bottle, and other essentials, she demonstrates how simple swaps can significantly reduce plastic consumption in our daily lives.
Laura Raffin offers sustainable solutions for the kitchen and home, highlighting the impact of replacing cling wrap with reusable wax wraps and silicone lids. By making these simple swaps, Laura significantly reduces plastic waste in her daily routines. Her lesson encourages us to seek out practical alternatives that align with our commitment to a plastic-free lifestyle.
Taylor Ganis, a climate activist advocates for bulk buying as a means to reduce plastic packaging and overall environmental impact. Making bulk purchases replaces numerous small packages, resulting in less plastic waste. Taylor’s lesson encourages us to make mindful choices in our consumption patterns to minimize plastic use and waste.
Abdy, an eco-advocate, advocates for buying items in bulk, reducing the product-to-packaging ratio, and ultimately saving on plastic waste. Taylor Ganis, another climate advocate, echoes Abdy’s sentiment, urging us to make mindful choices by opting for bulk purchases to reduce plastic consumption.
Karen Maurice, an eco-advocate, shares the impact of shopping at a more affordable zero-waste shop. By refilling household products with reusable and refillable containers, Karen significantly reduces her plastic waste output. Her journey towards a sustainable lifestyle serves as an inspiration to others.
Lacie Wever, an eco-advocate and busy mom, showcases the power of creative solutions. By cloth diapering her children and making mindful choices in daily life, she exemplifies how small changes can lead to significant impacts in reducing plastic waste.
Sara Docarmo, an eco-advocate and content creator, leads by example in her plastic-free journey. From using a menstrual cup to natural deodorant and shampoo bars, Sara shows that adopting sustainable swaps can lead to a more eco-friendly lifestyle. Her lesson inspires us to take actionable steps and lead the way toward a plastic-free future.
The Plastic Free July Campaign brought together all these inspiring voices united against plastic pollution. From climate activists and eco-entrepreneurs to sustainable fashion designers and eco-advocates, these individuals showcased the power of individual actions and collective efforts in reducing plastic consumption. Their stories and favorite tips demonstrated that small steps when combined, create a powerful force for change. By collectively embracing sustainable practices, holding corporations accountable, and being mindful of our plastic consumption, we can pave the way toward a cleaner, greener, and plastic-free world. Together, we can turn the tide against plastic pollution and create a cleaner, greener planet for generations to come.
Waste colonialism hasn’t been a new topic of discussion. With the term itself coined in 1989, waste colonialism remains very much alive in our modern age. Post COP-27, with the establishment of the loss and damage fund, it begs the question of whether waste colonialism is to have its own talks and implementations.
What is waste colonialism?
Waste colonialism refers to the movement of waste past sovereign borders, particularly from privileged and influential countries to lesser privileged and influential countries. The term “colonialism” is used to signify historical colonial relationship dynamics, and some argue that waste colonialism is considered as an extension of imperial colonialism. According to Lamech Opiyo, a Kenyan environmentalist, waste colonialism usually stems from “developed countries with huge multinational industries” with high rates of production, and exploit developing countries with these exports.
This is because the key concepts of colonialism are reinforced: (a) forced entry into a territory and its population (b) alteration or destruction of the indigenous culture and patterns of social organisation (c) domination of the indigenous population by representatives of the invading society and (d) justification of such activities with highly prejudicial, racist beliefs, and stereotypes.
Plastic waste colonialism is the output of plastic waste being moved to borders outside of its manufacturing site. Opiyo added that plastic waste colonialism is when “developed countries are trying to downpour and exploit developing countries by their waste – in this case, plastic waste.” According to the UN, 400 million tons of plastic is being produced annually. Plastic has been identified as the fastest growing material since the 1970s, and most of the plastic waste found in oceans and landfills is single use. 85% of plastic packaging ends up in landfills, which leads to the concept of plastic waste colonialism. Incidents of plastic waste colonialism have been no secret over the past two decades. Statistics from Eurostat showcase that the EU alone has exported 1.1 million tons of plastic waste in 2021. The European Parliament stated that around half of all the collected plastic for recycling is shipped elsewhere, with Turkey being the number one receiver.
Why does waste colonialism happen?
It became evident that the reasons as to why waste colonialism occurs is because of the benefits involved in partaking in it. “Most of these developed countries find it very cheap.” Opiyo stated, with respect as to how plastic waste colonialism is cheaper to execute than to regulate domestically. It was also found that there are economic benefits to importing waste – which outweighs the societal and environmental harm it causes. Developing nations willingly – and at times unwillingly – get foreign waste across their borders for monetary compensation. A study by the World Bank has found that the amount of urban solid waste has increased by 70% and is expected to go from 1.3 billion tons/year to 2.2 billion tons by 2025. This would raise global annual costs to $375 billion from $205 billion.
This global increase in cost will happen most severely in cities of low-income countries. Plastic waste colonialism has made the movement of plastic from developed nations to developing nations a “business” that allows for the cheapest method of waste management with the highest consequence for nations that accept that waste. African and Asian countries are the ones that receive plastic waste from the Global North, with an exception to China. After the Chinese decision to no longer accept foreign waste, developed nations dumped approximately 1 billion tons of plastic waste into Senegal and Kenya a year after that decision.
It is no secret that it’s “relatively poor and marginalised” groups of people who suffer the most because of plastic waste colonialism, as said by Opiyo. According to Green Peace, plastic industries persuaded developing countries that the dumping of plastics could be an attempt to solve the present unemployment. However, it fails to be a sustainable solution to unemployment, and has more severe consequences – one of which correlates to environmental justice.
Plastic waste colonialism only adds to the issue of plastic waste that developing countries are already trying to combat. Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, generates over 2,400 tonnes of waste – a fifth of which is plastic, as reported by The Guardian. With the massive amounts of plastic waste that need to be regulated, it has introduced end-of-pipe technological solutions, which often have more negative consequences than positive ones. According to Gaia, an international environmental organisation, these solutions create severe health implications for workers, communities, and citizens by releasing exponential amounts of greenhouse gases, toxic air pollutants, dangerous ashes, and other hazardous materials. This excess plastic waste can negatively affect countries with regards to public health, economy, and sustainability – which is precisely why multiple policies have been introduced to combat plastic waste colonialism.
What has been done officially to combat plastic waste colonialism?
The Basel Convention – formally known as the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal – is an international treaty signed in 1989. It was done to reduce the transfer of hazardous waste from developed countries to developing countries. The intention of the convention was to improve the socio-environmental aspects of the waste transferred, and to assist developing countries in the management of these wastes. As of May 2023, there are 191 parties within the convention; however, Hati and the USA have signed the convention without ratifying it.
In May of 2019, multiple countries have amended the Basel Convention to include plastic waste. This was done in wake of the discovery of 100 million metric tons of plastic found in the world’s ocean. The USA opposed this amendment; however, export shipment from the US is considered as “criminal traffic as soon as the ships get on high seas,” as stated by the Basel Action Network (BAN), with the shipments being subject to liability. Opiyo mentioned how there are so many policies and regulations present against plastic waste colonialism, but aren’t being implemented. Opiyo reiterates that policies are required to regulate the amount of waste that is being exported to developing countries, and the gap that is present between the actualisation of these regulations sets them back.
What can you do to combat waste colonialism?
Awareness is a key factor in the fight against plastic waste colonialism. As simple as it sounds, regular citizens need to be aware that the recycling of plastic that they think they are participating in isn’t as straightforward as it seems. German citizens in 2019 were shocked to find their recycled plastic waste all the way in Turkey in 2020, as reported by The Guardian.
Opiyo emphasises that efforts in raising awareness towards waste colonialism should be consistent, and in the scope of an individual. Individual households should start prioritising their waste management, and move towards implementing a circular economic lifestyle. A circular economy refers to a model of production and consumption that revolves around using and reusing existing materials for as long as possible. The decision to become more sustainable should root from an individualistic level, with the priorities being set in line with that. Opiyo mentioned how awareness campaigns – even on social media – could impact different policies with regards to waste colonialism, considering that the biggest impacts start with the accumulation of small actions.
The attempt at being eco-friendly directly affects the products that are present within a household, which reinforces the idea that sustainability starts at home. The ability to influence other individuals to be eco-friendly can create a collective effort – consisting of the government, NGOs, international organisations, businesses etc. – to promote waste management practices. Opiyo states that awareness is key to creating a more “equitable and eco-friendly environment towards managing waste.”
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